For a great many years, I have played a mean game of musical chairs at work. We have acquired big companies resulting in duplication and layoffs. We have spun off parts of the business resulting in workforce reduction. We have restructured and eliminated entire divisions to stay agile and profitable or to, quite frankly, move the work to more affordable offshore options. For at least 18 out of the 20 years I have needed to both (1) look over my shoulder and (2) navigate what might be ahead.
This past year my employer told me that I would need to relocate to Georgia, Idaho, California or Oregon or lose my job. The only consideration was my zip code. I was able to locate another job in the company that includes travel and customer interaction so I was able to stay on the payroll and in Fairport, NY. This time. Barely. And just after I became situated there was an announcement that another 30,000 employees (10% of the employee base) will lose their jobs in the not so distant future. Perhaps me this time.
We have all done things to avoid this fate. Relocation. Long commutes. Extra responsibility. In my case even doing two jobs for seven months to grab the next monkey bar. And I am in good company. At times, some of them either were not given the option or chose not to continue with the company and have gone a different way. In those few quiet moments amidst chaos I sometimes realize just how much we have lost. Fascinating, talented, devoted people. We worked long hours in side-by-side chairs structuring ingenious solutions to real customer problems. We made a difference. We earned the right to call one another both ‘colleague’ and ‘friend’…and now they are gone. And I miss them.
But never have I felt such a sense of sadness as I do today as we lose the best one yet. Her name is Heidi. And we all love her very much.
The founders of our great company would be proud to know her. In fact, I imagine that they would call her family. Never once did she deviate from their vision which, in short, consists of this:
1. Making a technical contribution; 2. Superior performance; 3. Trusting people and giving them freedom; 4. Contributing directly to the well-being of the community; and 5. Integrity.
For 25 years, Heidi’s work has been the double helix of this company’s DNA. Her ideas are the backbone of many of the working processes that we still rely upon. She has navigated sensitive situations. And authored documents. She has been a sounding board and a solid contributor and has helped many of us through system changes and migrations. She has done pro bono work to help the community. And a million other things that weren’t anywhere on her job description but were the ‘right’ thing to do…so she did them…without ever being asked.
But, more than any of this, Heidi is my friend. She is the one I called hysterically while following the ambulance to the hospital like a bat out of hell the day Mack had her stroke. Our kids are close in age so, years before that, she was also the one I called to help me diagnose simple childhood illnesses like the mystery rashes on my babies. She is the first friend I called to tell the horrifying truth about my marriage when I finally found the courage to leave it. We have cried together when we made mistakes. She knows my secrets. She is the one that still makes me laugh until I absolutely ache ~ white board conversations until 2am, trying to explain to her husband why we were both on all fours in the family room when he walked in the first time I met him, beer stands, deer stands, banter and flat out cackling until we are disciplined by our families (again) for “laughing too loudly at work.” We have managed to find humor even in the seemingly humorless chapters of our lives. And, during the periods that we were each struggling individually and not in touch with one another at all we never stopped knowing that the other was out there somewhere…and waiting to love us again.
Heidi has chosen not to reach for the next monkey bar this time. Our company will no longer allow her to work from home and a four to five hour commute each day was just not in keeping with the life she wants with her five beautiful children and a sprinkling of grandchildren already. She cherishes her family, and a commute such as this would not allow her to really live to the fullest. So, she has decided to move forward differently.
So, with every blessing I can muster, I wish her well. But I don’t know what our company will be without her. Scratch that. I guess I do. I just don’t know how to comfort myself about it.
As you exit, Nelson, there is no need to write and send that farewell note that you dread. But, I do think you should run screaming from the building yelling “last one out is a rotten egg!!” No better way to go than that.
I’ll be right behind you. Always.